But You Look so Normal

Lost and Found in a Hearing World

Non-Fiction - Memoir
256 Pages
Reviewed on 08/17/2023
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Author Biography

At age four, I was diagnosed with a severe hearing loss. With determination and the help of powerful hearing aids, I learned to hear, speak and lipread. I was mainstreamed in public schools in Berkeley, CA. After earning master’s degrees in archaeology and in public policy, and finally an MFA, I developed a career in photography and painting, a profession compatible with a hearing loss. I ran a fine art portrait photography studio for fifteen years before becoming a full-time painter. My paintings are represented by the Seager Gray gallery in Mill Valley, CA. and can be seen on my website: www.claudiamarseille.com

Recently, as my friends began experiencing age-related hearing challenges, I’ve heard them say, “Ah, now I understand what you went through.” My heart goes out to anyone adapting to hearing loss; I genuinely empathize with the journey. However, there’s a vast difference between living with severe-to-profound hearing loss from birth and experiencing mild hearing loss later in life. I hope my memoir offers a window into that unique experience.

I played classical piano much of my life; in my free time I love to read, watch movies, travel, spend time with friends, and attend concerts and art exhibits. I live with my husband in Oakland and we have one daughter

    Book Review

Reviewed by Nino Lobiladze for Readers' Favorite

When Claudia was four years old, it became clear that she had severe hearing loss. Claudia's condition was caused by the side effect of a medication her mother had taken for nausea during her pregnancy. There weren't many options for people with hearing loss in the mid-1950s. Claudia attended a regular public school in Berkeley, California. Using hearing aids, Claudia learned lipreading to communicate with others. In her school, Claudia faced many challenges. As an outgoing child, she often felt lonely. She couldn't participate in group dialogues, staying outside the group of her schoolmates. Claudia's parents didn't fully understand her struggles. Her mother, a Holocaust survivor, used to tell Claudia to fix her problems herself. Claudia's father, often preoccupied with odd projects to gain money, paid little attention to Claudia and her brother, Elliot. Step by step, Claudia learned how to navigate and flourish in the world of sound. But You Look So Normal by Claudia Marseille is an inspirational and educational read for fans of memoirs and nonfiction.

In But You Look So Normal, Claudia Marseille narrates her incredible story from a historical perspective. Claudia gives us a glimpse into the development of hearing aids, starting from the 1950s to the digital era with its many innovations. The author shares her parents' tragic life stories before and during WWII, which read like a thriller. I appreciated Claudia's account of her trip to Israel and her time on the kibbutz. Claudia profoundly understood the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But You Look So Normal reveals how many difficulties a person with hearing loss faces daily. In childhood, Claudia often couldn't understand TV programs, movies, or even the words of popular songs, which made her an outcast among her peers. It may sound shocking today, but it took Claudia years to finally start telling them or her teachers about her difficulties with hearing. The author's courage at an age when women weren't supposed to stand up for themselves impresses a contemporary reader. Claudia graciously and with a dose of good humor accepted her limitations, like when her little daughter asked her a tricky question. This uplifting book will motivate and empower readers with hearing loss.

Edith Wairimu

Delivered with elegance and honesty, But You Look So Normal: Lost and Found in a Hearing World by Claudia Marseille is an excellent memoir about the challenges of growing up with an invisible disability. Though she had not spoken by age four, Marseille’s parents, who had left Nazi Germany for America, had not noticed that something was wrong with their daughter as they were still acclimating to their new life. Instead of sending her to a school for deaf students, they chose to mainstream her at public schools. Surrounded by hearing classmates, Marseille encountered numerous obstacles. She struggled to make friends, fit in, and had a fear of stigma while still navigating other challenges in school and at home. With skill and sincerity, Marseille covers her family and romantic relationships, her path to becoming clearer about her Jewish heritage and identity, and her career.

Claudia Marseille’s writing is fluid, inviting, and easy to follow. Her well-rendered experiences capture the emotional and mental toll she faced as a person with disabling hearing loss. Her determination to succeed despite the daunting issues she faced is inspiring. She faces detours and disappointments with immense courage. Reading about her growth during her coming-of-age years as she examined her relationship with her father and explored her Jewish identity was empowering. But You Look So Normal is a triumphant, encouraging coming-of-age story for those who have faced the challenges of living with a disability and an eye-opening read for those who have not. It is a heart-rending story but also an account of fortitude and success.

Emma Megan

Most of us don't know how difficult it is for people with hearing disabilities to hear or understand the people around them. In But You Look So Normal, Claudia Marseille describes how severe hearing loss can affect one's life. This memoir encapsulates the many challenges Claudia had to navigate due to her hearing loss problem. She reveals what caused this condition, how much she struggled to follow discussions and insert herself into social situations, and how vulnerable she was to danger at the hands of others. She also reveals how she learned to hear, speak, and lipread, her complicated relationship with her German refugee parents, how their divorce affected her, the humiliation, isolation, lack of a sense of community, and difficulties in speaking and understanding others.

Claudia Marseille's long journey from silence into sound inspires many, as it shows that no matter the obstacles, one can learn to cope with and even take charge of one's disability. But You Look So Normal brims with raw emotion, honesty, personality, hope, and the challenges of being different, misunderstood, lonely, and isolated. Claudia's determination to be protective of her mother's feelings, heal her disappointment over her father's lack of support and involvement in her life, find a career compatible with hearing loss, and ultimately make peace with her disability are beautifully captured in the text. This remarkable memoir is not just for those now handling hearing loss but also for their friends, family, and people around them. It's a source of hope and an invitation to be more empathetic with those affected by hearing loss.